A San Gabriel restaurateur on Friday became one of the first defendants in the nation to be convicted under new federal guidelines that more than double the prison time for trafficking in the illicit drug Ecstasy.
A federal court jury deliberated three hours before convicting David Chi Ping Leung, 42, on a charge of possession with intent to sell 28,464 Ecstasy tablets valued at more than $560,000.
U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins set sentencing for Oct. 15.
Reacting to the rising popularity of Ecstasy among America's youth, the U.S. Sentencing Commission earlier this year ordered the new guidelines to take effect May 1.
Under those guidelines, Leung, a first-time offender, faces about 12 to 16 years in prison. Under the previous guidelines, he would have faced about five to six years behind bars.
Ecstasy, whose chemical name is methylenedioxymethylamphetamine, gives users a sense of euphoria and an increased desire to interact socially. A user's blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature increase dramatically.
While Ecstasy was once used primarily by young people at nightclubs and dance parties known as "raves," it is now being sold wherever teenagers gather, including school campuses and shopping malls, according to police and drug treatment officials.
Leung was arrested May 14 by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Customs Service when he retrieved a package containing the Ecstasy pills from an auto repair shop down the block from his restaurant.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel D. Rubinstein, who prosecuted the case, said Leung had arranged for the shop owner, a friend, to accept the package when it arrived from Belgium.
The package contained a BMW gearbox, into which the pills were stuffed. The shop owner was not charged.
Leung took the stand in own defense during the trial and denied knowing that the gearbox contained Ecstasy. He testified that another friend of his, who could not be located, had asked him to import the gearbox as a favor.
The defendant also denied having told investigators that he regularly bought Ecstasy for his girlfriend who used the drug on a daily basis.
"Unfortunately for us, the jury was not persuaded," defense lawyer Carl Osborne said after the verdict.
Leung, who managed one of several fish restaurants owned by his family, is being held at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in lieu of $500,000 bond.
Another Los Angeles federal court jury is currently hearing testimony in a second Ecstasy case under the new guidelines. Gilad Gadasi, a 26-year-old Woodland Hills man, was arrested May 6 and charged with conspiracy to distribute more than 118,000 Ecstasy tablets. His case is expected to go to the jury next week.